Tag Archives: north korea

Diplomatic Solutions to the North Korean Nuclear Crisis?

By BEF 2017 NATO-Participant Brandon Roth

New South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, is at the center of a major North Korean diplomatic policy shift. Talks on the peninsula have the potential to change the political fault lines of the world’s largest nuclear powers. North Korean dictator, Kim Jon-un, contacted his long time Southern rival and the United States to discuss the North’s growing nuclear arsenal and sanctions. Recently, the UN imposed tough isolating measures that have further isolated the rogue North. World leaders are welcoming the change, however a diplomatic miss-step in world’s most volatile region could threaten international stability for years to come.

Questions remains, namely did Kim Jong-un chose a diplomatic solution due to strict UN sanctions as President Trump claims? Or is the dictator emboldened by his declaration of a nuclear weapons program capable of targeting both Europe and the US with nuclear ballistic missiles.

With the prospect of talks on the horizon, North Korea remains defiant as they recently activated a nuclear reactor with the potential to produce weapons grade Plutonium.

The Trump administration did not hesitate to accept the dictator’s unsolicited invitation. Claiming political victory, President Trump championed his policy of economic warfare against the world’s last Stalinist regime. “The president has made it clear, companies that help fund North Korea‘s nuclear ambition will not do business with the United States” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a February statement.

Many have voiced concerns current sanctions on the rogue nation may cause famine and starvation for the 25 million citizens isolated in the secretive North. After famine killed an estimated 2.4 million North Korean citizens in the 90’s, the US, South Korea, Japan and China began providing 75% of North Koreas food and energy trade. Recent estimates suggest 70% of the population continues to be undernourished.

After recent sanctions, China now provides 90% of North Koreas food and Energy trade, according to the UN Security Council.

Source: Stephan Haggard, professor of Korea-Pacific Studies at the University of California-San Diego. UNSCR refers to United Nations Security Council Resolutions.

Before the diplomatic shift by the North’s Supreme Leader Kim, President Trump claimed a victory by convincing China to back UN Resolution 1718 and 2375. This was an unprecedented move by China against its US$ 8 billion trading partner, North Korea.

The historic support of sanctions by China highlights recent strains in the China-North Korean relationship. However, China’s conflicted policy may have reached a turning point as the rebel leader tested nuclear weapons close to the Chinese boarder, sparking tensions and causing riots in the country.

Threat of conflict on the Korean Peninsula and uncertainty of the American role in the region has caused East Asian countries to quietly build-up their own capabilities. Many South Korean citizens support a homegrown nuclear weapons program and want the capability to provide their own security. Japan is working towards a larger alliance with India, Australia and is challenging the limits on its military capabilities imposed by Article 9 of its constitution.

The goal of talks with North Korea has always been the complete dismantling of its Nuclear Program. The U.S. has made it clear in the past, disarmament is required for future talks. However, in a 2017 meeting with Steve Bannon, he hinted the US “might consider a deal in which China got North Korea to freeze its nuclear buildup with verifiable inspections and the United States removed its troops from the peninsula”.

Accepting a nuclearized rogue state to the short list of nuclear powers is not an option. Even if North Korea didn’t launch a devastating nuclear strike, it has already proliferated its nuclear program beyond its borders. According to the CIA, the North Korean Regime secretly worked with Syria and Iran to exchange nuclear technology. Israel reacted to the building of a nuclear weapons plant in Syria by destroying its reactor in 2007. If Kim decided to work with terrorists, the results would be catastrophic.


Please note that the views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Munich European Forum e.V.



Council on Foreign Relations. 2018. “The China–North Korea Relationship”. https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/03/north-korea-south-korea/555245/

North Korea and China: A friendship in decline?

By Marian Fritz, Member of the Board

In the last few weeks, the spotlight of international debate shifted away from Syria and focused instead on the events related to North Korea. Recent developments in the region bear an enormous potential for a widespread  conflict with possible nuclear strikes. The threat of use of nuclear weaponry was believed to be a relic of the cold war era, but in recent days – according to US officials  – it has become possible to consider nuclear strikes as an option “on the table.”

The conflict exists since the creation of both North and South Korea after the Second World War, and grew into a fully fledged war between June 1950 and July 1953 between the communist North Korea and the capitalist South Korea, drawing in all of their allies including China and the USA. The conflict has never ended, with both sides agreeing upon an armistice. Tensions have always been high, however at the moment, they seem to have become higher than ever before.

The situation was delicate over the last few years with North Korea’s pursuit to develop and test nuclear weaponry, but this time the situation is different. The US has previously deployed warships into the area for drills, as well as a deterrent to protect South Korea (for example in 2016), however under the new administration, direct threats made by the US Government have increased. This verbal escalation was clear during Vice President Price‘s visit to the demilitarized zone (DMZ) on 17th April 2017 when he threatened North Korea that the Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB, also known as the ‘Mother of all Bombs’) used by the US in Afghanistan could also be used against North Korea[i]. This claim prompted Russia to respond by claiming to have the “father of all bombs”.[ii]

Although the Peoples Republic of China has traditionally supported North Korea, this seems to have deteriorated. This was seen in the report by the state-owned television channel CCTV, which reported that Air China had stopped flights to Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. This was later corrected by Air China announcing that only some flights were canceled due to declining demands[iii], however this effectively demonstrated a rift in the diplomatic relations between both countries.[iv] Another sign for the worsening relationship between China and North Korea was the announcement by the Chinese Ministry of Commerce to ban coal imports from North Korea by the end of 2017 and a report that China refused a Korean coal delivery worth $1m in February 2017.[v] Given the various sanctions currently imposed on North Korea and keeping in mind that coal trade with China has been the North Korea’s main source of income, this threat has the ability to damage the North Korea’s shrinking economy and isolate the nation even further.

This new separation can also be traced when international naval traffic is monitored. The map below shows that many vessels – including many Chinese cargo vessels – avoid North Korean waters.

NK Map

Figure 1: Maritime traffic in the region (Source: http://www.marinetraffic.com/en/ais/home/centerx:40.8/centery:3.4/zoom:2)

The rift between the former allies could present an opportunity to resolve the problem of North Korea’s developing nuclear programme, however it bears great risks. If China enforces the coal ban, this could lead to a total collapse of the North Korean economy and create pressure on Chairman Kim Jong Un to either stop his nuclear programme, or face his removal from power without foreign military intervention.

Although this option does avoid the use of nuclear weapons, it could lead to a civil war in North Korea if Kim Jong Un chooses to fight. This in turn could lead to the proliferation of nuclear material, which would need to be prevented by all means, otherwise international security will be at stake.

If China does not continue to increase pressure on North Korea, and all parties do decline to reduce their threats, the possibility of a nonlethal solution to the conflict is weakened. So far there is still the possibility of preventing an armed conflict, however this must be done through China rather than by addressing Kim Jong Un. Based on China’s actions of over the past few months, it would be reasonable to assume that China does not want a conflict on their border and would put diplomatic pressure on North Korea to avoid this. Nevertheless, it must be made clear to all nations concerned that in the case of a war with North Korea there would be no winner but only losers, especially if the conflict turns nuclear.

Please note that the views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Munich European Forum e.V.

[i] http://edition.cnn.com/2017/04/16/politics/us-north-korea-dmz-vice-president-pence/

[ii] http://edition.cnn.com/2017/04/20/world/russia-foab-weapon/

[iii] http://www.reuters.com/article/northkorea-china-airline-idUSL3N1HM30D

[iv] http://money.cnn.com/2017/04/25/news/air-china-north-korea-beijing-pyongyang-flights/

[v] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-39015529